With her starring role in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga has given the world so much already. The trailer — and the entire film — has been memed to death and the film’s characters, beats, and quirks have become a part of queer lexicon. (And, also, it’s already the subject of some pretty intense backlash, but more on that later.)
Gaga has been so generous with her adoring public this year that many people want to know: will she be getting anything in return, especially — oh, I don’t know — a hulking piece of gold hardware known as the Academy Award for Best Actress? Currently, Gaga shows up in 23 of the 24 Best Actress finalist lineups by Oscar experts on GoldDerby. Hell, she tops nine of the lists.
So, let’s assess the chances that we’ll be able to say “Academy Award Winner Lady Gaga” come February 24.
The film: A few detractors aside, A Star Is Born has garnered some pretty hefty critical acclaim. Critical acclaim will no doubt lead to critics’ awards, but on a basic level, it’s clear people love the film and want to reward it. The bigger question is: does that mean rewarding Gaga?
Box office: OK, it’s important to understand that no awards show, and no award given out by an awards body, can be separated from the show’s politics and public persona. As evidenced by the Oscars’ ill-fated “Best Popular Film” category, the Oscars want to be Sally Field. They want you to like them, to really like them. Well, there’s no better way for the Oscars to show that they’re hip and young — hello, fellow kids! — than to heap awards on A Star Is Born, which earned $43 million in its first weekend alone, more than many Best Picture nominees will earn throughout their entire run.
The performance: OK, all this other shit aside, let’s just call it what it is — Gaga is great as Ally. Though a lot of people are less forgiving to the film’s Jackson-heavy second half, Gaga wins every viewer’s heart in the first half. The camera loves her and she loves it. She completely delivers on creating a character that is completely different from her own public persona, and more than being a good actress, she’s also a completely watchable one that grabs your eye no matter the scene. There are plenty of actresses — Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock and Reese Witherspoon, for instance — who won not only for solid performances but for starring in a vehicle that used their star power to maximum effect.
The narrative: Often, just as important as the performance itself is the narrative that the win fulfills. Bullock was the “prom queen,” Julianne Moore was “overdue,” Jennifer Lawrence was the brand new Hollywood royalty. To paraphrase and mangle Ratatouille, Gaga’s performance dazzles because it’s not only a reminder that anyone can be a great actress, but that a great performance can come from anywhere. Even though she’s won a Golden Globe for American Horror Story: Hotel, A Star Is Born is Gaga’s first major foray into film acting (she had a small role in Machete Kills). Gaga definitely has the “She can act!?” narrative going for her.
The meta-performance: Gaga has been doing a sort of meta-performance of an actress during the festival circuit. She’s been playing the part of starlet very well and she’s become someone who voters want to root for. By playing the part of the star, she also makes voters feel like they’re giving the award to someone who respects Hollywood the institution (as opposed to last year’s winner, Frances McDormand, who eschews the whole kit-and-caboodle.)
The soundtrack: A Star Is Born is a musical and people love the soundtrack, which reached #1 on the Billboard 200, while “Shallow” has so far peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Gaga does the best vocal singing and the best lyrical interpretation in the film. People will want to reward her.
The character: As much as Gaga gives a great performance, her performance does the job of having to elevate what is, in the end, a poorly-drawn character. There’s definitely a precedent for terrible female characters netting their actresses trophies, but some people may be hesitant to award Gaga for a character that doesn’t have a last name until she gets married.
Her early frontrunner status: The Oscar season is a marathon, not a sprint. And A Star Is Born has the dubious honor of being the first big Oscar film to debut in theaters. It got a lot of acclaim pretty quickly before people grew too cynical, and it avoided the December glut when people can hardly get around to seeing every award-worthy film. But, having to keep up the frontrunner status for a full four months is hard to pull off, especially when other performances will feel more fresh in voters’ minds.
Bradley Cooper and Sam Elliott: The Best Actress race is already sorely overcrowded, with Olivia Colman, Glenn Close, Melissa McCarthy, Viola Davis, Yalitza Aparicio and more trying to get their hands on some Oscar gold. That stands in stark opposition to the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories, which look mighty paltry in comparison. The Academy will want to reward Cooper, who has been nominated three times before in the category, and who delivered big time as the writer, director, and star of Born. And Sam Elliott already is dominating conversations about the sleepy Supporting Actor category. Only two films in history have won three acting awards: A Streetcar Named Desire and Network. Of those two, only Network won two statues in lead categories, meaning A Star Is Born would have to pull off something done only once before in Academy history.
The soundtrack: Hey, the soundtrack was a strength — what gives? Well, the Academy may look to spread the love around and give Gaga a Best Song Oscar and give the award to another actress.
The backlash: It’d be easy to say a backlash for A Star Is Born is inevitable, but it’s not … it’s already here. The film and Gaga’s performance have already garnered a bit of criticism from the film community and who knows if the film’s mighty wall will be able to withstand four months of criticism. However, one PRO from that: there’s always backlash to the backlash, and the film has some pretty fierce defenders.
Image via Getty
Oct. 16, 2018: This story has been updated to reflect that Network also won three acting Academy Awards.